Extreme Weather and Climate Change?

flooded streetsI’m sure my fellow east coasters will agree with me, we have gotten a lot of rain in the last month. From the storms and floods surrounding Hurricane Irene to the current torrential rain storms, my raincoat and umbrella have become my new best friends. The unprecedented weather we’ve experienced across the country has ignited the public’s interest in understanding just how extreme weather events are related to climate change.

Earlier this week, Climate Communication, released a new report “Current Extreme Weather and Climate Change,” which found that many types of extreme events are occurring more frequently, and the ties to human-induced climate change are clear. Warming temperatures are fundamentally affecting weather patterns, and creating an environment in which extreme weather events such as heat waves, heavy downpours, and droughts are likely to be more frequent and more severe. The report summarizes recent peer-reviewed scientific literature detailing the connections between climate change and extreme weather events.

Climate Communication found that as a result of global warming, rain will increasingly fall in heavy downpours. Warmer air holds more water vapor, so when a storm system moves through, that extra water dumps out as heavy rain. Between these downpours, there are longer periods without rain. As a result, a cycle of droughts and floods can occur. “Sustained heavy precipitation leads to the types of floods we’ve seen in recent years in Pakistan, Australia, and the Mississippi,” said Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. At the same time, dry areas are becoming drier, due to lack of precipitation coupled with increased evaporation that is associated with higher temperatures. Across the globe, very dry areas have doubled in size since the 1970s.

While these extreme events continue to hit us with floods, droughts, and extreme heat, we can plan for a resilient future to help us deal with a changing climate. We can protect and restore the wetlands, forests, and rivers that slow floods and provide clean water. We can use water more efficiently at home, in factories, and on farms. And we can install green roofs, rain gardens, and green streets in our cities to decrease polluted runoff, improve air quality, and lower temperatures. By adopting these approaches, we can save money, solve existing problems, and prepare for the future.

As the 2011 hurricane and rain season continues here on the east coast, we can work with Congress and the Administration to integrate policies that will help us adapt to a changing climate. In the meantime, I know I’m glad I have a sturdy umbrella.